Lesson Plan on Switching Between Present Perfect and Past Simple

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The switch between the present perfect and the past simple is one of the most challenging aspects for English learners. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Students use a language - such as German, French or Italian - which uses its version of the past simple and the present perfect interchangeably.
  • Students find the difference between specific past experience (past simple) and general experience (present perfect) difficult.
  • Students speak a language in which tense usage is much more 'loose' such as Japanese.

This lesson focuses on the switch by first narrowing the choices down to either the present perfect or the past simple. It asks students to first ask questions about general experience with 'ever' and then drill down to the specifics with question words such as 'where, when, why' etc. Here are a few overviews on how to teach the past simple and how to teach the present perfect separately.

Aim

Becoming more proficient in switching between the present perfect and the past simple

Activity

Number 1 Asking about experiences # 2 Writing about experiences

Level

Lower-intermediate to intermediate

Outline

Begin the lessons by speaking about your own experiences in a general way. Be careful not to give any details about these experiences. In other words, keep to the present perfect. I find topics such as travel, education, and hobbies work well.

For example:

I've been to many countries in my life. I've travelled in Europe and I've visited France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. I've also driven a lot in the United States. In fact, I've driven through almost 45 states.

Ask students to ask you questions about the specifics of some of your adventures.

You may need to model this. However, students will hopefully be able to catch on fast and keep to the past simple.

On the board, create a timeline showing past to present with some of your adventures. Put question marks above the general statements, specific dates above specific statements. Point out the difference between the two. You can use the tense time charts on this site as well.

Introduce the question "Have you ever ..." for general experience.

Review information questions in the past simple to focus on specific experiences.

Model a few question and answer exchanges with students switching between "Have you ever..." followed by information questions "When did you ..., Where did you ..., etc." when students answer in the affirmative. 

Have students complete exercise one with partners or in small groups. 

Moving around the class, listen to these conversations helping when necessary.

To continue, ask students to fill in the worksheet following the example provided. Move around the room making sure students are switching between the present perfect and the simple past in writing.

Exercise 1

Use the present perfect with 'Have you ever...' to ask your classmates questions. When your partner answers 'yes', follow-up with information questions in the past simple.

For example:

Student 1: Have you ever been to China?
Student 2: Yes, I have.
Student 1: When did you go there?
Student 2: I went there in 2005.
Student 1: Which cities did you visit?
Student 2: I visited Beijing and and Shanghai.

  1. buy a new car
  2. travel in a foreign country
  3. play football / soccer / tennis / golf
  4. work in a large company
  5. fly over the ocean
  6. eat something that made you sick
  7. study a foreign language
  8. lose your money, wallet, or purse
  9. eat snails
  10. play an instrument

Exercise 2

Write a few sentences on each of these topics. First, begin with a sentence using the present perfect. Next, write a sentence or two giving specific details. For example:

I have learned three languages in my life. I studied German and Italian when I was in college. I also learned French when I visited the country for a three month French language program in 1998. 

Hobbies I have learned

Places I have visited

Crazy food I have eaten

People I have met

Stupid things I have bought

Subjects I have studied